When I was younger I remember hearing people say things like “the state can’t love you” or “the state can’t love people”, and I think the comment was often made in reference to state welfare programs being sort of impersonal, inferior replacements to, say, aid from your local church or group of friends. And I heard that, but I don’t think I really “got it”… yeah OK the state can’t “love you” but it can help you and that’s kind of what people often need, right?
The twilight zone activity in our nation which increasingly doesn’t deserve the word “pandemic response”, as it walks further away from anything that can be justified as necessary for disease response, and as it shows no signs of ending, really brought home for me the truth that the technocratic state doesn’t care about you. Or, we might say it better, the technocratic state doesn’t care about you. The state can’t love you (mother was right!). On its very, very best day, it cares about producing “optimal” outcomes on a statistical level for the masses, very much akin to what some of us did as kids when we played SimCity.
Often we can’t even say that, and we could talk about the corruption and graft and desire for power and control and tribalism that actually motivates a lot of state action. But even on its best day, the technocratic state doesn’t care about you. You are part of a statistical ensemble.
This is why, when the governor of New York talked about firing nurses who wouldn’t be vaccinated, she could say forthrightly that they would just be replaced. If a cog in the machine stops working you just grab another cog. The technocratic state doesn’t care that you’ve had that job for 30 years. It doesn’t know who you are. It doesn’t care that you’ve already had COVID and are better protected than your coworker vaccinated eight months ago anyway. The technocratic state doesn’t and cannot care about people on that level. Entirely reasonable concerns that almost anyone would respect on a person-to-person level just get steamrolled over.
What do we do about this? I don’t have any easy answers here. Reject technocracy and stop voting for technocrats. You might say I’m making the case that, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, you should be able to meet your leaders under the tree instead of taking orders from an untouchable agency a thousand miles away. That would certainly help. Or you might say that I’m making the case for does-much-less-stuff government generally. I was also struck by this Chesterton quotation today.
I frequently say that Chesterton had a time machine that allowed him to see the 21st century… but the real truth is that these patterns repeat in human society again and again. You’ve almost certainly heard this cliché before, I’m hearing it a lot lately, “strong men make good times, good times make weak men, weak men make bad times, bad times make strong men”. (We could add an “and you are here” arrow to the above, you know.) But another way to say that, which perhaps we are living through, is that societies will forget why X is important until they lose X, and then see the harm that comes from having lost X, at which point a sort of mass realization that X is important will occur, and then there will be a movement to get X back.
And that’s how it actually goes even if it has happened a dozen times before, because people don’t know that history (mostly), and if they do there is some reason it is different this time. That’s not a very optimistic ending for a post but it does seem to me that this is what we are living through.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.